Part of baby's skull removed after officer accidentally shot child

Courtney Fischer Image
Wednesday, March 17, 2021
Part of baby's skull removed after officer accidentally shot child
Part of the 1-year-old baby's skull had to be removed to relieve the swelling. His mother and her attorneys spoke for the first time since the shooting.

HOUSTON, Texas (KTRK) -- The attorney for the family of a 1-year-old shot by Houston police as they confronted a chase suspect says the baby is still suffering after the incident.

According to civil rights attorney Benjamin Crump, who has gained recent notoriety for advocating on behalf of George Floyd's family, 1-year-old Legend Smalls had to have part of his skull removed to relieve the swelling in his brain. Legend is in the pediatric ICU.

Crump and Legend's family held a press conference to talk about the shooting. Legend's mother, Daisha Smalls, was in attendance. This was the first time she's left baby Legend's side in the hospital.

The shooting happened around 11:30 p.m. on March 3 at a Chevron gas station near the Southwest Freeway and Beechnut.

Initial reports from HPD said Smalls was parked at the gas station at pump 4. They also state that she was outside her car getting gas, and her baby was in the back seat.

But during Tuesday's briefing, Smalls disputes this detail. She said after the suspect in a black Mercedes crashed at the gas station and made his way to her vehicle, she was in the driver's seat.

According to Smalls, the man jumped inside of the car and sat on top of her. She said she screamed repeatedly that she wasn't going to get out because her baby was in the back seat.

Houston police said they had been chasing the man for about three miles. They said the black Mercedes he was driving was possibly linked to two aggravated robberies.

Officers thought he was about to steal the woman's car.

Police say the man had a gun, so officers told him to drop it.

According to police, the man didn't drop the gun, and that's when the officer fired, hitting not only the suspect, but also the 1-year-old child in the back seat.

"They knew she was in the car, but they still shot anyway, knowing a Black woman was in the car," said Crump. "Her life matters."

Police say the officer who opened fire didn't know baby Legend was in the vehicle.

"The most important thing right here, for our entire city, pray for this 1-year-old and that mother," HPD Executive Assistant Chief Troy Finner said after the shooting. "Can you imagine? She's pumping gas, probably coming from work or whatever, and has to go through this. And now she's in the hospital and we're all praying for that baby."

Attorney Antonio M. Romanucci was also in attendance at Tuesday's briefing.

"By the orders of the Houston Police Department, all human life has value," Romanucci said. "Those are not the rules that these lawyers up on this stage have made up. Were the actions of HPD objective and reasonable under the circumstances? Clearly the answer is no. This is not the movies, this is not the TV shows, this is real life. You do not shoot unless you know what your target is. Legend should not have been shot. Under their own rules, this was not a justified shooting."

Eyewitness News video taken that night showed the baby's head bandaged at the scene. Police at the time said Smalls was not hurt.

Meanwhile, Legend has endured more than 10 seizures since partial removal of his skull, Crump said.

"What will be his quality of life after having a bullet removed from his brain and having part of his skull removed to release swelling?" Crump posed the question during the briefing. "Little Legend will live for the rest of his life with their consequences."

Legend's mother described her son to have been a very smart and active boy before the incident.

"My son has been fighting every day for his life," she said. "He's struggling to breathe on his own. My baby didn't deserve it. I miss my son. I want him to be back the way he used to be."

The suspect, a man in his 30s, was pronounced dead at the scene.

Although police say the suspect had a gun, it is unclear if he ever pointed it at officers.

"I saw at least four or five cop cars chasing, I believe it was a Mercedes. Your best bet is to get footage from the gas station. I'm pretty sure they got everything," eyewitness Jaffar Hassan recalled.

The clerk at the gas station confirmed with ABC13 that there is surveillance video of the shooting.

The officer who shot the suspect and the baby has been with HPD for 15 years. HPD says he has been placed on administrative leave while the investigation continues.

According to Daisha Smalls, she has not received an apology from HPD nor have officers asked the status of Legend. She said all they have told her was that her car was ready to be picked up from the police station.

Hours after the news conference, outgoing police chief Art Acevedo insisted he and Finner went to the hospital to check on the 1-year-old and his mom.

"As we said from the scene the night of the shooting, we are hoping and praying for the full and speedy recovery of the little 1-year-old Legend Smalls," the chief said in a statement released Tuesday afternoon. "Myself and Executive Assistant Chief Troy Finner personally went to the hospital to check on the baby and meet with his mother."

Acevedo's statement adds the case is being investigated by the HPD Special Investigations Unit and Internal Affairs Division and will report back to the community with their findings.

During Tuesday's briefing, Crump also said he and the family will be talking to Acevedo to try to get body camera footage released from the moment of the incident.

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